Professor of German with courtesy appointments in English & History
I joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty in August of 1993. From then until the present I have been involved in teaching in the University’s German program, mostly at the third- and fourth-year levels. I have also enjoyed teaching Elementary German. I have courtesy appointments in the departments of English and History, and some of my courses, such as “History of German Film” and “Nazi and Resistance Culture”, have been cross-listed in those departments. I have enjoyed the rich interdisciplinarity of Carnegie Mellon, particularly the relationship between my own college, the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the College of Fine Arts. I am the major advisor for students interested in majoring in German but am also happy to advise students with any German-related interests.
My scholarship is governed by a commitment to interdisciplinary research combining the study of literature and film with the study of history and politics. This interdisciplinarity is generally referred to in the profession as German Studies in order to distinguish it from the traditional exclusive study of literature generally characterized by the German-language term Germanistik. The German Studies approach is largely a product of the last four decades and is associated with the foundation and growth, during the 1970s and 1980s, of the German Studies Association (GSA) which brings together literary scholars, historians, and political scientists who share a common interest in the history, culture, and politics of Central Europe. I have been actively involved with the German Studies Association since the beginning of my career. From 2005-2007, I served a three-year term on the Executive Board of the GSA, helping set policy for the organization. In 2011-2012 I had the honor and privilege of serving the GSA as its President; and in 2013-2014 I served on the GSA’s Executive Council and Board as immediate past president. I also served as vice president of the organization in 2009-2010.
All of my major research projects explore the relationship between literature and culture on the one hand and German national identity on the other. My most recent book, The Writers’ State: Constructing East German Literature, 1945-1959, examines the origins and development of East German literary culture out of the catastrophe of the Nazi dictatorship and in the crucible of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. That book appeared at the end of 2015. For a 2017 interview about this book, please click here. A Critical History of German Film, which was published in 2010, is an overview of German film history from the perspective of German national identity; it developed as a textbook for my regular course “History of German Film” at Carnegie Mellon. Nuremberg: The Imaginary Capital, which was published in 2006, is a broad study of German cultural history since 1500, with particular emphasis on the period since 1800. It explores the ways in which Germans have imagined Nuremberg as a cultural and spiritual capital, focusing feelings of national identity on the city—or on their image of it. German Literary Culture at the Zero Hour, published in 2004, examines the ways in which German intellectuals and writers, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, confronted perhaps the most difficult complex of problems ever faced by modern intellectuals in the western world: the complete defeat and devastation of their country, the crimes of the Hitler dictatorship, the onset of the Cold war, and ultimately the political division of the nation. Literature and German Reunification, published in 1999, was the first systematic attempt in English or any other language to examine the literary consequences of German reunification. In exploring the ways in which authors of the 1990s sought to cope with history and national identity, the book addresses questions about the role of the nation and a national literature in the context of economic and political globalization. My future plans include a book dealing with the year 1989-1990, the collapse of the East German State, and the development of culture in a political vacuum; I intend that book to be complement to both Literature and German Reunification and The Writers’ State. I also hope to prepare a second edition of A Critical History of German Film with at least five new chapters.
In 2007, I was honored to receive the DAAD Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in German and European Studies/Humanities, an award given out every three years by the German Academic Exchange Service and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. (In other years the DAAD and the AICGS award prizes in economics and political science.)
From 2002-2007, I was the managing editor of the Brecht Yearbook, the major scholarly organ devoted to studying the work of one of the greatest figures in twentieth-century literature, the playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht. Together with colleagues in Augsburg, Germany, the city of Brecht’s birth, I also organized a major international, interdisciplinary symposium entitled Brecht and Death/ Brecht und der Tod in Augsburg July 12-16, 2006 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Brecht’s death in the summer of 1956. Selected proceedings of this fascinating symposium were published in the summer of 2007 as Vol. 32 of the Brecht Yearbook. As probably the most influential political playwright of the twentieth century and a powerful, perceptive critic of moral hypocrisy and self-righteousness, Brecht is just as relevant today as he was in the first half of the twentieth century. He has had, and continues to have, a profound impact on nonconformist theater in the United States, Latin America, South Africa, Asia, Germany, and elsewhere. Brecht was also one of the greatest German-language poets of the twentieth century, revolutionizing the use of the German language in somewhat the same way that Ernest Hemingway revolutionized the use of the English language: he made simplicity and directness an art form, translating complex and subtle thoughts into direct, clear, comprehensible language. I was honored to be elected president of the International Brecht Society (IBS) in 2013, and I enjoyed the sixteenth symposium of the IBS, Recycling Brecht, which took place in the United Kingdom at the University of Oxford in June 2016. Together with colleagues in Leipzig, Germany, I am currently planning the next symposium of the IBS, tentatively scheduled for Leipzig in June of 2019 with the title Brecht unter Fremden (Brecht among Strangers).
EducationPh.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison (1989)
- The Writers' State: Constructing East German Literature 1945-1959 (Rochester: Camden House, 2015).
- A Critical History of German Film (Rochester: Camden House, 2010).
- Nuremberg: The Imaginary Capital (Rochester: Camden House, 2006).
- German Literary Culture at Zero Hour (Rochester: Camden House, 2004).
- Literature and German Reunification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)
- Brecht and Death, The Brecht Yearbook 32, The International Brecht Society, Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University, 2007.
- Young Mr. Brecht Becomes a Writer, The Brecht Yearbook 31, The International Brecht Society, Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University, 2006.
- Who Was Ruth Berlau? The Brecht Yearbook 30, The International Brecht Society, Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University, 2006
- Mahagonny.com, The Brecht Yearbook 29, The International Brecht Society. Guest editors Marc Silberman and Florian Vassen. The International Brecht Society, Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University, 2004.
- Friends, Colleagues, Collaborators, The Brecht Yearbook 28, The International Brecht Society, Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University, 2003.
- Where Extremes Meet: Rereading Brecht and Beckett, The Brecht Yearbook 27, Managing Editor with Guest Editor Anthony Tatlow, The International Brecht Society, University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.
- Heroes and Heroism in German Culture: Essays in Honor of Jost Hermand, ed. Stephen Brockmann and James Steakley (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001)
- Revisiting Zero Hour 1945: The Emergence of Postwar German Culture, ed. Stephen Brockmann and Frank Trommler (Washington: American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, 1996).
- Dancing on the Volcano: Essays on the Culture of the Weimar Republic, ed. Thomas W. Kniesche and Stephen Brockmann (Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994)
- Studies in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature, vol.28, no. 1 (Winter 2004), Special Issues on Writing and Reading in Berlin.
- New German Critique n. 52 (Winter 1991), Special Issue on German Unification, co-edited with Anson Rabinbach.
- “Kurt Drawert und die untergegangene DDR,” Text+Kritik 213 (January 2017), pp. 21-29.
- “Establishing Cultural Fronts in East and West Germany,” Comparative Critical Studies, vol. 13, no. 2 (June 2016), pp. 149-172.
- “The Postwar Restoration in East and West,” New German Critique 126 (November 2015), pp. 69-90.
My teaching is governed by the conviction that language learning is central to a humanistic education, and that the study of foreign literatures and cultures is central to the humanities. I believe that the study of foreign languages and cultures is not only eminently practical in an increasingly interconnected global economic and political environment but also fundamentally liberating at the personal, human level. Furthermore, I am convinced that students can fruitfully use their study of foreign languages and cultures as a way of better understanding their own culture and its relationship to the rest of the world.
Although research and teaching are sometimes at odds with each other in research universities, my teaching and my research do come together in an important way. The trend in German Studies research over the past four decades has been away from a single-issue focus on great works of literature and toward a more holistic understanding of culture as encompassing many systems of signification. Scholars have increasingly sought connections between literature and other systems, such as the other arts, politics, philosophy, theology, history, etc. The German Studies profession has helped lead the way in this interdisciplinary approach, an approach that has made headway in other areas of language and literature study as well. I have been very much a part of this trend. My classes are characterized by intense reading and discussion, since reading and discussion about reading are among the best ways of studying a language and a culture, as well as by attention to film, history, philosophy, music, and other aspects of German culture.
Among the courses that I regularly teach are:
- 82-427 Nazi and Resistance Culture
This course introduces students to the culture of the Third Reich, from the various forms of literature through film to music, painting, and sculpture. A central focus of the course is what Walter Benjamin referred to as “the aestheticization of politics.” The course also deals with the cultural expression of German and European anti-Nazis and of the resistance, from Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Anna Seghers to Arnold Schönberg. This course is sometimes offered in English and sometimes offered only in German.
- 82-428 History of German Film
This course provides an overview of German film history, from the invention of cinema in 1895 through the German Kaiserreich, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, the German Democratic Republic, and the contemporary Federal Republic of Germany. In recent years I have taught this course exclusively in English. I designed my book A Critical History of German Film for this course.
- 82-227 Germany and the European Union
In the spring of 2016 I piloted a new course, Germany and the European Union, which offered a general overview of contemporary Germany, its politics and society, and its relationship to and participation in the European Union, the most important economic bloc in the history of the world. The course is generally cross-listed with the Department of History and is offered exclusively in English. For more on the course and students’ participation in it the two in-class debates it featured, please click here.